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Portland mayor battle will be hottest in years

The primary results have set up a faceoff between experience and barely restrained energy. Losing out: the sustainability candidate. Oh, Portlandia, how could you?

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The Bus began in 2002 after Smith abandoned a legal career (he graduated from Harvard Law School), bought some used school buses, and found that a lot of young people were eager to “get on the Bus” and work in legislative campaigns. Most were Democrats, and in a decade Smith built an impressive political machine that is still the heart of his support.

But Smith is more than The Bus, just as Hales is more than an ex-councilman. Both are thoughtful and in the Portland progressive mode. Smith raised more than $500,000 in the primary, Hales topped $640,000. With Brady’s $1.2 million, this was the most expensive mayoral primary in Portland history.

There is a difference, at least in approach, to the important Columbia River Crossing, the proposed new bridge across the Columbia connecting Portland and Vancouver, Wash. Smith has been a vocal opponent of the entire project as designed; Hales is critical but believes it can be worked out and built.

Beyond that, personality contrasts may decide the race in November. Smith is barely restrained energy, certainly not a “wild kid” but with the enthusiasm of youth; he is prone to popping off and more a man of ideas than execution. Hales is not really “an old dude,” but a mature candidate with both public and private experience and a record as someone who can get things done.

Smith clearly has momentum, and his gains in late campaigning came largely from Brady; he will need to pick up some of her votes and some of her financial support as many Portland business leaders and older Democrats place their chips on Hales.

Portland’s “weak mayor” system puts the office only slightly above that of the five city commissioners; nearly any major action requires commission approval and each commissioner runs a major bureau. Successful mayors have lobbying skills necessary to rally a majority Council vote.

Regardless of November’s outcome, Oregon is welcoming an interesting new face with Jefferson Smith, who many friends believe has his long-range sights set on higher office. Even if Hales, with his seven-point advantage Tuesday, wins in the fall, Smith will be around.

As if often the case, elections reward those who persevere. Remember Steve Novick, the 4-foot-9 activist who ran for the U.S. Senate in Oregon in 2008, losing a primary to now-Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.? Well, perhaps you don’t remember our profile of Novick, the guy whose TV commercial featured him opening a beer bottle with the metal hook that serves as his left hand.

Novick, a very bright man with a Harvard law degree and service in several public jobs, considered other races in the interim, but this year filed for a seat on the Portland City Council; Tuesday night he won more than 50 percent to move to the general election unopposed.

Floyd J. McKay, professor of journalism emeritus at Western Washington University, was a print and broadcast journalist in Oregon for three decades. Recipient of a DuPont-Columbia Broadcast Award for documentaries, and a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, he is also a historian and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Washington. He resides in Bellingham and can be reached at floydmckay@comcast.net.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, May 17, 7:49 a.m. Inappropriate

All three frontrunners were sustainability candidates.

Charlie Hales has been promoting transit-based development for a decade. Jefferson Smith helped launch the "Cool Schools" program to retrofit Oregon public school buildings for energy efficiency and is the only candidate to oppose the Columbia River Crossing, a proposed $4b investment in single occupancy car commuting.

Portland is a sustainability city - so it makes sense that all the candidates support a shift toward smarter resource use and environmental sustainability generally.

The only way Brady was the "green" candidate is that she lacked the political experience of her rivals, and she raised and spent more "green" ($1.2m) than any candidate in Portland history.

Posted Thu, May 17, 9:24 a.m. Inappropriate

Eileen Brady refused to increase funding for the city's bureau of transportation overall or towards a greater share of the existing dollars to go bike/ped improvements. Without reservation she supports the $4billion dollar highway megaproject known as the CRC despite universal opposition from 1000Friends, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and the Coalition for a Livable Future.

Charlie Hales has accepted $15,000 in contributions from an out-of-state conglomerate that is contracted to build major portions of the KeystoneXL tarsands pipeline. While on the Council, Charlie abandoned Mayor Katz's coalition to enact a street maintenance fee. as a candidate he is now pledging to halt systems development charges altogether.

Jefferson Smith earned an "A" rating from the Oregon League of Conservation Voters (90% or better) in his two sessions - something only 7 other legislators have accomplished. He also campaigned for Measure 49 with the 1000 Friends of Oregon as a core speaker/listener on their Envision Oregon project. He is the only candidate to reject the CRC as designed and welcome a complete reprioritization of area transportation needs.

There's a reason why so many green endorsements have gone to Jefferson Smith and not to the other two main candidates.

He's the greenest by far in both his words and his deeds.

pdxmike

Posted Thu, May 17, 10:10 a.m. Inappropriate

One of the interesting pieces of this is your comment about lobbying skills of the rest of council.

Smith has demonstrated a remarkable ability to get things done in a difficult Oregon legislature. In 2009, as a freshman legislator, Smith partnered with an Eastern Oregon Republican to bring amount the most sweeping changes to Oregon water law in 25 years - a change supported by farmers and environmentalists, as well as significant majorities of each chamber. Eastern Oregon water management had vexed the legislature for years, and been a source of huge contention. Smith and Jenson were able to figure it out.

Smith also was able to move things through the tied Oregon House in 2011 - as mentioned above, he moved the Cool Schools bill through, helping create jobs, protect the environment, and invest in schools.

His legislative record is impressive beyond the environment, and he was moving up in party leadership in his second session before deciding to run for mayor.

Moreover, the idea of The Bus Project was pooh-poohed by many as unrealistic. He made this organization of grassroots democracy happen, and it's been copied across the U.S. as well as now in Liberia.

Hence, I would say Smith's both a man of bold ideas, and of executing them.

Posted Mon, May 21, 11:33 a.m. Inappropriate

Living across the river from Portland, I see a clear choice: If the voters chose Charlie Hales, they chose someone who "gets thing done" while Jefferson Smith offers a "vision thing." Personally, given the crime problems, the police bureau challenges,the deteriorating streets, and the marginal schools, "taking care of the basics" is more important.

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